My American Sisters
c. Dec 6-9, 1917 — Conference Dinner, National Advisory Council, National Woman’s Party, Washington DC
If anybody should have told me in Russia that the American women could be arrested for peaceful picketing at the White House, I would never have believed it.
America and Freedom were synonymous for us in Russia. When we became deadly tired of the cruelty of our old regime, we used to read and to dream about your land. The political criminals, exiled to Siberia, ran away to America with the great hope to find liberty across the ocean.
I will not tell about their disappointments; they expected too much, and quite naturally were distressed to realize that America is not a paradise. Yet she could be the happiest place in the world, being so extremely rich and civilized.
For many years I have wised to visit America. From the days of my childhood I have dreamed about your beautiful country, and I am happy to have a closer acquaintanceship with you, you who are a nation of originators, inventors, and conquerors. But I must confess — my joy is missed with sorrow.
I find that the spirit of America is much better than its life. The lot of American people disappointed me. And especially the lot of your women disappointed my enthusiastic heart. I shall try to explain.
I had not expected to find your republic a paradise, although she also was the land of my dreams. But I was sure you had freedom of speech, of thought and of the press.
But when I came to America, I saw almost immediately that your country is not so free and independent as I expected it to be. I read and heard that many of the woman suffragists were put in jail for non-existent political crimes, for the peaceful picketing of the White House.
American women, such patriotic, clever, and well educated citizens as they, who are called the “Aristocracy of America!’ Your women — the pride of your country — they were treated as criminals, as low, common thieves! To learn that was too much even for my optimistic Slavish soul.
During the several months I avoided expressing my opinion about America. I wanted just to observe and learn something of this strange country. And, besides, it seemed too bold to criticize the hospitable country where I was only a guest.
But now I feel more than a guest here. American becomes always nearer and dearer to me. And, perhaps, it will be a long time before I leave her.
Being in love with America, I can not be silent. We never tell the truth to mere acquaintances; we prefer just to exchange compliments with them; it is more agreeable and . . . . much safer. But to those nearest, to our real friends we must sometimes open our hearts and tell even the bitterest truth. Now I have the courage to speak with Americans about their faults.
I do it because they may derive advantage and profit by my painful Russian experiences; I can not be silent, seeing our old Slavish mistakes repeated in this happier state which — I am afraid — will return to the times of our past slavery.
Twelve years ago we Russians could be put in jail and even killed for peaceful picketing of the Tsar’s palace. I remember well that terrible day of the Ninth of February, when unarmed people were shot in front of [the] dark Winter Palace. We asked for freedom peacefully and were punished for it. But don’t forget — that was twelve years ago! After the establishment of the Douma, such a thing became unknown. Every day, till the revolution occurred, we asked our old government in a hundred ways:
How much longer shall our people wait for liberty?
And our women were not sent to prison for such a simple ironical question.
But here, in free America, whose name heretofore brought a hopeful smile to the pale lips of slaves, here I heard the revolting story about young girls and the white-haired women in prison.
I had the honor to meet a few of them; they told me about their experience in the jail. And their cases reminded me clearly of our old regime.
I have been twice to the Russian prison: of course the life in the solitary cell was not sweet; but I can assure you it was better than that which American women — suffragists — must bear.
We were permitted to read and write; we wore our own clothes; we were not forced to mix with the criminals; we did no work. (Only a few women, exiled to Siberia for extremely serious political crimes were compelled to work.) And our guardians and even judges respected us, they felt we were victims, we struggled for liberty.
It is very sorrowful for me to compare the government of your country and the reign of the cruel Romanoff family. At home, in Russia, I never believed such a seemingly wild comparison would be possible. I never supposed Russian women would get their right sooner than yours.
But now I, who was so envious of your American women — I must now pity you.
Forgive me, my dear American sisters, these bitter words of truth — they were dictated by my Slavish heart, which loves you and wants to see you quite free and happy. You must struggle yet, and struggle hard; but I foresee the day when the American woman enters the White House as a president of all America and will represent the kind and wise heart of her country.
Source: The Suffragist, Vol. V, No. 99, December 15, 1917.